Under false pretenses and under false pretences

Under false pretenses and under false pretences are two versions of an idiom that has been popular for about 100 years. An idiom is a commonly used word, group of words, or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. Often using descriptive imagery or metaphors, common idioms are words and phrases used in the English language in order to convey a concise idea, and are often spoken or are considered informal or conversational. English idioms can illustrate emotion more quickly than a phrase that has a literal meaning, even when the etymology or origin of the idiomatic expression is lost. An idiom is a metaphorical figure of speech, and it is understood that it is not a use of literal language. Figures of speech like an often-used metaphor have definitions and connotations that go beyond the literal meaning of the words. Mastery of the turn of phrase of an idiom, which may use slang words or other parts of speech common in American slang or British slang, is essential for the English learner. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions and idiomatic language such as hit the sack, spill the beans, let the cat out of the bag, silver lining, back to the drawing board, barking up the wrong tree, kick the bucket, hit the nail on the head, face the music, under the weather, piece of cake, when pigs fly, and raining cats and dogs, because they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. English phrases that are idioms should not be taken literally. In addition to learning vocabulary and grammar, one must understand the phrasing of the figurative language of idiomatic phrases in order to know English like a native speaker; it is helpful to maintain a list of phrases, common expressions, colloquial terms, and popular expressions to memorize that are used figuratively or idiomatically. We will examine the meaning of the common sayings under false pretenses and under false pretences, where they came from, and some examples of their idiomatic usage in sentences.

Under false pretenses is an idiom that describes misrepresenting circumstances, leaving a false impression, intentionally misleading someone. For instance, someone who is hired because he has earned an academic degree but has not, in fact, earned that degree, has accepted the position under false pretenses. The expression under false pretenses is most probably taken from the law; in the law, contracts or other agreements cannot be entered into under false pretenses, meaning one may not misrepresent the facts. The term has been used in everyday language since the mid-1800s. Under false pretenses is the American English spelling of the idiom.

Under false pretences is the British English spelling of the idiom. The word pretence or pretense means an unsupported assertion and has been in use since the 1400s.


The DOC K-9 tracking dogs were able to track to a home in Nauvoo where the suspect had gone into someone’s home under false pretenses while trying to evade capture. (Daily Mountain Eagle)

The false conspiracy sought to portray Obama’s election wins as fraudulent and secured under false pretenses. (Business Insider)

A drinks company that used false bank statements to obtain £300,000 from lenders under false pretences has been wound up in court. (Accountancy Daily)

Many clubs feel they effectively started playing under false pretences and have now been left high and dry. (The Guardian)

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